Basil

I like and appreciate all herbs, but adore basil. It is one herb I must have in my garden. We grew a large container of this wonderful herb and I always looked forward to harvest time. Picking the leaves is pure pleasure, they are loaded with volatile oils responsible for its intense aroma; holding a handful heavenly.

There is so much to like, even love about basil. It’s distinct taste and aroma is a feast for the senses, and this little herb is rich in a variety of important nutrients. It’s an all around winner in my book. Basil flower blossoms are great added salads so don’t neglect to pick them.

Varieties of Culinary Basil

Italian Leaf Basil – a good all around basil, use fresh and for pesto.

Lemon Basil – bright, clean, citrus-lemon scent, and this plant attracts bees!

Mammoth Basil – sweet full flavor, grow the largest of all basil leaf varieties.

Marseille – a French basil variety with extra large leaves that offers a sweet, yet strong flavor.

Red Rubin – tastes like sweet Italian, has large smooth deep burgundy leaves 3 – 4 inches long, and is a great variety for flavoring oil and vinegars.

Sweet Genovese Basil – considered the best for pesto.

Thai Basil [Siam Queen] – has an intense licorice-basil flavor, great in Asian dishes.

Growing Basil

Basil is an easy to grow annual – which means it only lives through one season – that typically blooms in July and August. Sow seeds directly into the ground or in a large terra cotta pot situated in an area where it will receive plenty of direct sunlight.

Basil likes rich soil, so use compost when planting and use mulch for established seedlings. It does best in well-drained soil that is kept moist but not over watered.

Starting this plant indoors is an option, if the weather outside is too cold. When the weather permits, transplant (this plant is very forgiving when uprooted) or transport the container it grows in to a sunny spot outdoors.

Help create a full bushy plant growth with generous leaf production by pinching back any flower blossoms and picking the leaves from the plant often.

Nutritional Profile and Benefits of Basil

This little herb is loaded with powerful antioxidant and contains:

Beta Carotene | Calcium | Dietary Fiber | Iron | Magnesium | Manganese | Phosphorus | Potassium | Vitamin C | Vitamin K

Selecting and Storing Basil

Pick young fresh basil leaves from your garden or buy big, fragrant, bright green color leafy bunches at a farmer’s market or grocery store.

Here are a couple ways to store fresh basil:

    • Place the basil, stem side down in a glass of water and be sure to change the water every other day. It is suggested to cover the leaves with a plastic bag secured to the glass with a rubber band but I usually don’t cover mine. Store in the refrigerator up to a week.

or

  • Rinse and pat dry fresh basil leaves and trim the stems short. Place the leaves between two paper towels and place in a large plastic bag and refrigerate up to four days.

Preparing Basil for Later Use

When basil season is long over and you have a craving for this delicious herb, drying or freezing it are two great ways to preserve it for later use during winter months.

Dried Basil

Drying basil using a dehydrator is a great way to preserve extra fresh basil to use as a spice. You will need to do the following:

    • Washing the basil right after harvesting or purchasing.
    • Remove the leaves from the stem.
    • Allow the leaves to air dry for about 30 minutes or pat dry with a paper towl.
    • Place the leaves in a dehydrator, spreading the basil out on a dehydrator rack in single rows (do not pile the leaves on top of each other).
    • Keep enough space between each leaf so there is good air circulation.
    • Rotate the tray a few times through out dehydrating.
    • Dehydrate for 8 to 10 hours or until the leaves are completely dry (to avoid mold).

or

Dry basil the good old fashion way by hanging a bunch in a dry, dark, cool location until thoroughly dried.

Dried basil keeps well for months when stored in a cool, dry, dark place in a lidded glass jar, a spice tin, or a plastic bag. Always remember to label and date the container.

Tip: Store dried leaves whole and crumble or crush the leaf or leaves as needed. This help retain more basil flavor from the leaves.

Freeze Basil

Another great way to lock in the freshness of basil and have it available long after summer is over is to freeze it.

  • Wash the basil leaves and remove from the stem
  • Place the basil leaves in a food processor with ingredients to make a pesto
  • Fill ice trays with the pesto and freeze.
  • Transfer frozen pesto cubes into a freezer container or bag that has been labeled and dated
  • Place in the freezer and use as needed.

Serving Suggestions

Basil is one of those herbs that combine well with a long list of foods. It is an invaluable herb in cuisines across the globe, and is a predominate herb in Mediterranean, Italian and Thai cuisines. It is a natural accompaniment to all tomato dishes, and a principal ingredient of pesto sauce. It goes well with garlic, onions, eggplant, cashew nuts, cabbage, chili peppers, lemon, zucchini, cauliflower, curry, parsnips, and cabbage, to name several, and could definitely be an ingredient in a sweet dessert – depending on the variety of basil.

Don’t’ forget about basil flower blossoms, they are a great addition to salads.

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